[Coral-List] Further response: Worst places to harvest coral for aquarium trade?

Russell Kelley BYOGUIDES russell at byoguides.com
Fri Apr 7 06:29:42 EDT 2017

Good day Sander

Thanks for the follow up. To your questions...

Hi Russell,

Interesting story. Do you have data to support your claim that most corals from the GBR are collected from "inter reef areas”?

To be clear I said, "Much, perhaps most, of the coral collected does not come from the shallow water “reef” as people know it from pictures of divers, corals and swarms of fish.”

While I know this to be true anecdotally from my ID training and site visits to coral collectors, I decided to ring a couple of geographically widely separated Queensland collectors this afternoon and ask them: one quoted the ratio of 60 / 40 (inter-reef / reef collection ratio), the other was 50 / 50.

Many Acroporids, the most sought after genus, are shallow water species (2-20m) and can not survive those high sediment and low light conditions. 

While the genus Acropora / Montipora are sort after by aquarists so too are many other genera: Cycloseris, Catalaphyllia, Scolymia, Acanthastrea, Echinophyllia, Acanthophyllia, Trachyphylllia, Goniopora, Turbinaria etc. many of which have low light/ sediment rejecting species with the kind of colours and behaviours aquarists enjoy.  If you trawl around a variety of aquarium community  sites you’ll see it’s not all about Acroporids.   

Also from own experience, finding other hard corals on those deeper (35-50m) sand flats, is like finding a needle in a haystack. 

I have to disagree with you here. The Great Barrier Inter-Reef is a vast and variable thing - it’s estimated to be about 210 000 square kilometres out of the 344 400 sq. km GBR Marine park. It’s ecology and biology is best described as patchy. When the GBR Marine Park was rezoned around 2004 the science described ~70 bioregions spread over the 2000km length of the GBR - basically a reflection of the various combinations mud / sand / current / light and coastal influence possible in this vast system. Inter-reefal corals can be found anywhere in the system and it would be a mistake to think that there is a bias to 35-50m.

There are distinctive coral communities on the inter-tidal flats of the coast / rocky islands, in the inshore muck of shallow costal bays, around inshore islands, between the reefs on sediments, between the reef on patches or "isolates", between the reefs on submerged shoals, and, between the reefs in high, medium and low current flows. The coral collectors know what to look for by a combination of context, depth, sounder texture and have no trouble finding them. Though they avoid the deeper reaches for practical workplace health reasons. (Indeed it's hard to find 50m depth except in the southern third of the GBR Marine park.) In my experience, while the coral collectors may not be up on the latest literature, they know a lot more about what-lives-where across that 210 000 sq. km. of the inter-reef than scientists like me.

Collecting coral and selling them on straight after 3 days is not sustainable, as I believe there is a 200 ton combined live coral collection license per year for the GBR, please correct me if I am wrong. Let alone "live rock" collection.

The coral collectors I spoke with where puzzled by the "3 day” figure you quote - saying more typical holding times are 3 weeks and sometimes months (because they range across vast areas they will bring in stock and hold it to minimise fuel costs).   

Yes the industry has a combined 200 tonne quota which includes 60 tonnes of "specialty corals” and 140 tonnes of “other”. Bizarrely "other" includes Acropora, Pocillopora, the “softs” and live rock. Apparently this is a historical hangover relating to the evolution the industry from the days of the “curio trade”). To my mind the coral take seems trivial spread across the 210 000 square kilometres of "inter-reef" and 134 400 sq. km of “reef”. Particularly when one considers coral eating fish like the bumphead parrotfish are estimated to process 5 tonne / year. (Bellwood et al. 2003). The GBR is the kind of place where you can still see these massive fish in schools of 50 - so it’s conceivable that in one year, one school could eat more coral on one reef than the coral collecting industry processes from the entire GBR Marine Park. (Bellwood DR, Hoey AS, Choat JH (2003) Limited functional redundancy in high diversity systems: resilience and ecosystem function on coral reefs <http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1461-0248.2003.00432.x>. Ecology Letters 6:281-285).

Farming coral is a more sustainable solution I believe.

I agree that coral farming is an important development and aquarists themselves are fragging their own corals like there is no tomorrow. However, based on my observations and experience of the Queensland Coral Fishery, the Environmental Risk Assessment process and what I know about the Great Barrier Reef I can not agree with Damien’s stance. More to the point, as I stated in my original coral list post, I believe his views are ill-informed and disrespectful of the people “doing the right” in a well managed coral collecting industry.

For the time being on the Great Barrier Reef at least, for coral farming to win, it doesn’t mean wild coral collecting has to lose. 



Some background:

My Blue Highway publication sought to popularise the Great Barrier Inter-reef via a simple schema:  http://www.russellkelley.info/print/the-blue-highway/ <http://www.russellkelley.info/print/the-blue-highway/>

See also: CAPPO, M. & KELLEY, R. 2001 Connectivity in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area-an overview of pathways and processes. In Wolanski, E. Oceanographic processes of coral reefs: physical and biological links in the Great Barrier Reef: 161-187. CRC Press, New York.

A more recent rendering of the 70 biophysical regions down to 9 non-reefal habitats but the Seabed Biodiversity Project and was published in: Pears R. et.al 2012 Ecological risk assessment of the East Coast Trawl Fishery in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Technical report, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.  

Russell Kelley
russell at byoguides.com <mailto:russell at byoguides.com>

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James Cook University

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